The allure of Parisian museum cafés: My 5 favourites not to miss

Slow Paris

The cult of museum restaurants, has been going strong for the last couple of years. Just refer to this Michelin Guide piece about the art of opening a restaurant at a museum, or this piece in Le Monde, about the overpriced fancy museum restaurant concept. However, I never really got into that scene. But I do have an enduring love and fixation on something adjacent to it, the museum cafés.

I have to confess something. While on my solo days about town in Paris, I rarely sit down at a restaurant unless it has a terrace or an amazing view. A museum café, especially with a garden however, is on another league however. I like to try them all!

While dining at a restaurant comes with the expectation of a finite amount of time to be spent at the table, a stop at a café comes without the pressure of an end time. You can stop for 5 minutes or 50. And if you are really inspired to finish that creative project or poem you are working on, I mean, take 5 hours if you please.

Planning your stay in Paris? Do read up on Parisian etiquettes and what not to do in Paris.

A view of the gardens with café chairs at Café Renoir, Musée de Montmartre Paris
Café Renoir, Musée de Montmartre, Paris. Photo by Pronoti

The never-ending allure of the Paris museum cafés

A museum is also an invitation to step into another world. It is in many ways, an invitation to plunge into another epoch and way of being. Not to be dramatic, but in many senses, it is akin to time-travel. Would you agree?

Now imagine being able to couple this ‘time-travel’ with a perfect stopover at a café right in the museum. The allure of the museum café perhaps lies in my desire to extend that distinct feeling of time-travel for a bit longer. Indeed, a great museum café can cushion the interlude between your exploration of another world (ie the museum) and the return back to harsh reality.

Now, for some of you, the concept of ‘museum cafés’ might draw up a dreary canteen-like image in your head. Possibly it’s one with plastic chairs, bad coffee and stale cookies and sandwiches, with no place to sit. But I am very happy to tell you that there are several museum cafés in Paris which are not only extremely cute, but also serve good food. Well, while the latter might not always be true, they more than make up for its with the view and ambience.

Even better, when museums go the extra mile to create a cocoon of greenery within their doors. Its like a salve for this city-dweller’s weary eyes and strung-out nerves. Yes, a nice museum café in a courtyard garden! I am always up for it. Nay, I am obsessed with it. It’s a place for rest, and for someone like who me spends a lot of her time inside her own head, it’s the perfect place to day-dream.

Looking for more perfect-for-day-dreaming places in Paris? Look no further than this royal garden or this Paris garden at Port de l’Arsenal.

Museum cafés, especially the ones that come with a garden, are like the liminal spaces between the real world and the curated experience of the museum. Some of us need them to transcend back to ‘the now.’ And when they serve all kinds of delicious drinks and baked goods? Honestly, what’s not to love!

Baked goods at Rose Bakery Maison Balzac Paris
Baked goods at Rose Bakery Maison Balzac Paris. Photo by Pronoti

Hidden Paris museum cafés you should not miss

Here are some of my favourite Paris museum cafés you should visit. These are all extremely accessible for all price points, and provide all the cosiness and caffein kick you might need in between museum visits.

Café Renoir

Nestled in the gardens of Musée de Montmartre, Café Renoir will feel like a vacation away from Paris city. The Jardin Renoir itself is exceptional, and gets its name from one of the most illustrious residents to stay at this house: painter Auguste Renoir himself!

This museum café in Paris is just the break that you need in between hopping from the various buildings that the museum is composed of. Looking down at the garden and café from the atop one of the buildings, its hard not to be impressed with its lush green lawns and the bucolic air of its deliciously dense flower bushes. The white chairs with the tiny pond in the middle with blooming lotuses, add the extra chicness that makes it feel very distinctly Parisian.

Lunch times do tend to get a little crowded. The café’s food offerings include French café regulars such as quiches, charcuterie plates, salads and baked goods. There is also a wide assortment of drinks on offer.

Additional information

  • Address: 12 Rue Cortot, 75018 Paris
  • Access: Through the Musée de Montmartre. To enter, you can buy a ticket to the museum or a €5 ticket that allows you entry to the garden and the cafe.
  • Opening hours: Open every day, from 11:00 AM  to  6:00 PM
People sitting on terrace at Le Café Renoir at museum of Montmartre
Le Café Renoir, Musée de Montmartre, Paris. Photo by Pronoti

Café- Restaurant le Jardin du Petit-Palais

The columned semi-circular walkway of the inner courtyard of Petit-Palais gives the illusion of never-ending lines. The columns take your eyes up to the striking ceilings. The exquisitely painted ceiling represents the four seasons, and twelve months of the year. In the middle of the courtyard, is the lush garden of Petit-Palais. Being from a tropical place, any garden that grows banana trees is a winner in my eyes!

It’s hard to miss the chairs strewn around one corner of the courtyard. It’s from the museum café and restaurant here. Simply called, Café le Jardin du Petit-Palais, it also serves some decent food. So, if you ever want to escape the humdrum of Paris, and pretend you are lazying in a tropical paradise, just get a chair at the café here and settle down with a drink for an hour or two. Its a brilliant place to work too. So that pesky little piece of writing you have been putting off? Perhaps this is just the place you need to finish it! The menu for food includes salads, quiches, and seasonal offerings.

Psst, there’ s also a gorgeous cherry tree in the garden that blooms in the most divine burst of pink shades every spring. I have been unsuccessful in getting a decent photo of it, in all the three years that I have spent in Paris. Hoping next year’s the charm!

Additional information

  • Address: 2 Av. Winston Churchill, 75008 Paris
  • Free entry into the museum and garden
  • Opening hours: Open everyday from 10:00 AM – 05:15 PM
Garden Café at le Jardin du Petit-Palais
Café le Jardin du Petit-Palais, Paris. Photo by Pronoti

Rose Bakery Maison Balzac

I think Maison de Balzac has one of the most under-rated views of the Eiffel Tower. If you are new to Paris, you might even think the photos of the pastoral, and rustic gardens of the Balazc house against the backdrop of the Eiffel Tower is a CGI generated mish-mash between Paris and some provincial town. Not.

This former house of the great writer, Honoré de Balzac, is now a museum in his honour. The museum also has a fabulous garden and a café & tea room, called Rose Bakery. It has a limited selection of dishes for lunch but the real star of the show, are their cakes, cookies and other goodies. The baked items are fresh and seriously good.

What I love about the garden is how brightly exposed it is, making it a prime sunny spot in a neighbourhood of residential apartment and tall houses. You will find me here in winter, seeing as it is such a good spot for catching some rays.

Additional information

  • Address: 47 Rue Raynouard, 75016 Paris
  • Free entry into the museum and garden
  • Opening hours: Sunday- Tuesday, From 10:00 AM to  06:00 PM
Rose Bakery Maison Balzac Paris with a view of Eiffel Tower
Rose Bakery, Maison Balzac with a view of the Eiffel Tower. Photo by Pronoti

Rose Bakery at Musée de la Vie Romantique

So, this one too is not exactly a café, but a tea salon. Musée de la Vie Romantique itself was the former home and atelier of painter Ary Scheffer. The house is extremely charming with a gorgeous courtyard garden. The dreamy Rose Bakery (not to be confused with the earlier café by the same name) is situated in a former greenhouse in the property. The seating for the tea salon also spills onto the garden.

The bakery has an assortment of hot and cold drinks plus all the good stuff you need for an afternoon tea. These includes cakes, crumbles, scones, cookies, etc. which are made according to ingredients that are available in the season. As you enter the interior of the café to order, do take note of the indoor water fixture on the right-side.

The garden is the prettiest around May-June when rose season is in full show. The bushes are beaming with flowers. But I have to say, even the barren-ness of winter here has a certain poetic ring about it, particularly, if you happen to be in the middle of writing a melancholic story.

Musée de la Vie Romantique is a tiny slice of the countryside that gives you a peek into what life might have been like before Paris became this city chock-a-block with people and buildings.  

Additional information:

  • Address: 46 rue des Martyrs, Paris 75009
  • Free admission into the museum, garden and cafe
  • Open everyday from 15:00- 18:00
Cafe chairs at Rose Bakery Musée de la Vie Romantique Paris
Rose Bakery, Musée de la Vie Romantique, Paris. Photo by Pronoti

Café des Frères Prévert

 This café is a little different from the earlier selections. It is not in a garden for starters, and it doesn’t have a stunning view. But it makes up for it with its history and oodles of personality.

Situated in Musée Malliol, this Paris museum café dates back to 1951. It was brothers Jacques and Pierre Prévert who opened a cabaret, La Fontaine des Quatre-Saisons, here. The Prévert brothers were a force to be reckoned with during their times. While Jacques was a poet, screenwriter and artist, while Pierre too wrote and directed. Their café soon became the watering hole of the who’s who of French cinema and entertainment industry. In fact, personalities like Boris Vian, Francis Blanche or Yves Montand were among the regulars here.

The basement cellars of the building were used as the changing rooms and kitchen of the cabaret. This is what became the Café des Frères Prévert as we know now. The menu includes a variety of pastries, salads and dishes.

Additional information

  • Address: Maillol Museum, 59/61 rue de Grenelle, 75007 Paris
  • Opening hours: As of the time of this article being written, this café is temporarily closed.

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